There’s no doubt that university teaches you a huge amount, and not just in terms of your academic studies. Even if you live at home, being thrown into a totally unknown environment with hundreds of new people to get to know along practically guarantees some personal development. However, there are some key life skills that will be particularly helpful to know before you go, particularly (though not exclusively) if you’re moving away into student accommodation or a shared house.
Before I left for university I took a gap year, giving myself a lot of time to prepare for the move, but I was also lucky in that my sister had been away before me so I had an idea of what I needed to get a grip on before I moved. My school experience had prepared me well academically and those habits supported me well as I got back into studying again, but learning some key life skills before I left helped me to feel much happier about moving away from home. Here are the top-three life skills I think you should have a bit of a grip on before Freshers’ Week kicks off…
In order to achieve the elusive ‘work-life balance’ learning how to manage your time is an absolutely key skill – but it’s far from easy. You’ll probably have picked up some time management skills during your school years, but university is a different ball game. At the end of the day, the only person who can make you go to class or ensure you get all your reading and work done on time is you. For any subject there’s a huge amount of work involve, whether it’s essays, reports, problems or just reading, so prior planning is essential.
Try out a few different methods (lists or alarms on your phone, post-it notes or the now-famous bullet journal are all tried-and-tested techniques) and find one that works for your lifestyle to keep you on top of things. A good method is to set between one and three top priorities for each day: tasks or goals you have to tick off by the end of the day. Prioritising in this way also allows you to make time for relaxation, socialising with friends, exercise and everything else you want to fit in.
I’d also recommend making a concentrated effort to be a little early for lectures and classes. Even if you risk standing by yourself for a couple of minutes, it will ensure you get a good seat, aren’t flustered or nervous, and will give you an opportunity to befriend and catch up with your coursemates ahead of the class. Once you get to know your classmates you can meet up in advance and go together.
Ultimately, the last thing you want to be doing is starting your essay hours before it’s due in, or trying to blag your way through class without having one any of the reading or preparatory work; after all your course should be your number one priority during your time at university.
This can seem a pretty broad and daunting task but it doesn’t have to be. There are so many resources out there to support you. To begin with, it’s highly worth investing in one or two student-orientated recipe books. Books written for students will be packed with easy and cost-effective main meals, breakfasts, snacks and desserts, and many will also come with great advice for beginner cooks such as what to buy for your kitchen, how to store different ingredients and various cooking techniques. Some include meal plans and estimated prices for each recipe. By all means spend hours scouring the internet for great recipes, but why bother when somebody has done all the work for you?
The single best item I brought with me to university was my slow-cooker – I used it every single week without fail and it made three or four main meals for me with each use. A decent slow-cooker will last years and years, and it allows you to prepare your food in the morning before you head out to class, only to be greeted with a hearty meal when you get back in the evening.
If you’re particularly worried about cooking, ask a friend or family member who is more capable to give you a few lessons, or even pay for a professional course; if you shop around you’ll probably find one geared for students. Take a bit of time getting to know your way around a kitchen; pick up a slow-cooker and recipe book for it, plus a few student-focused cookbooks, and try making a few meals at home for your family. Feeling confident about cooking before you leave for uni can make a huge difference, and a great way to do this is by cooking or others. You’ll be a pro in no time!
(If you’re worried about eating healthily whilst at university, check out this article I wrote for Times Higher Education a while back – it includes some suggestions for cookbooks too!)
The fun never stops! You might have had some experience with managing your money so far – say, if you’ve had a part-time job – but if you’re living away from home at university you might well have a lot more to pay for than you’re used to. Food, toiletries and day-to-day supplies all add up pretty fast, so it’s worth taking some time to learn some basic money management skills.
Firstly, head to your bank and set up a student bank account. Be aware of the size of the overdraft offered and think carefully about how much money you’re likely to need to spend each month and term. Make sure your Student Finance is all set up and correct too.
Once you move to university, set up a budget. How much are you going to let yourself spend day-to-day? Work out what you expect to spend versus your income, including costs for rent, food and your social life. There are apps and online tools to help you do this. Then try to log everything you spend, from food shops to cups of coffee with friends. If you find yourself strapped for cash you can look at your log and see where you can cut down on spending.
Hopefully some of this has been useful for those of you heading off to university soon! What life skills did uni teach you?